Grounded: Microsoft Flight Development Has Stopped

By Adam Smith on July 26th, 2012 at 11:00 am.

Rumours that Microsoft’s Vancouver studio had been completely shut down were swirling around the internet this morning, but in a statement to Gamespot, the company has specified that the studio will survive despite cuts. One of the projects that will cease, however, is Microsoft Flight, which means Tim Stone’s desire for “jets, smuggling, and air-sea rescues…via DLC” is likely to be forever unfulfilled, at least in this game. The free to play title seemed to have been designed as an expanding world but there will be no growth now. Our thoughts are with those whose jobs are affected, on this and other projects. Statement below.

“Microsoft Studios has decided to end development on Microsoft Flight and Project Columbia [a Kinect game]. As a result of this action, some positions within the development teams have been eliminated. Microsoft human resources is working with the affected individuals to find new roles within the company.

“Microsoft Studios is invested in British Columbia and still has several teams, both in Vancouver and Victoria, which will continue to produce the best entertainment and gaming experiences possible.”

It’s tempting to look at this as a failure of the free to play model and I’m going to at least partly give in to that temptation, although it’s also worth noting that this is the second flight simulation team to be closed by Microsoft in recent years. Maybe they just briefly forgot that they hate planes.

In terms of the model, it would be interesting to see what the average amount spent by people who played for at least a couple of hours was. There are so many questions about free to play that will only be easily answered once there have been a few successes and failures. Apart from the specifics of price points and the frequency of new content, queries must be made about how long a game should be allowed to exist in order to win over a paying audience.

How long does it take for players to start spending significantly, particularly in a non-competitive game? Even if I’m enjoying myself, I’ll often exhaust the content that’s there before spending some cash for more, which means I’m probably a bad customer for the first few months.

Of course, there might be other factors responsible for Flight’s fate, including the general health of the Vancouver development scene, but it’s hard not to think the sim didn’t really have a chance. When it’s navigable area was unveiled, the clouds parting, I assumed it would be growing and growing and growing, until planes were flying across the entire globe and even across the surface of the moon. It’s terrible to think of a game in terms of the business lessons it holds rather than the enjoyment it can bring, but with Flight seemingly not given a fighting chance, what can its short voyage teach anyone?

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75 Comments »

  1. Crimsoneer says:

    The problem is that it’s not a free 2 play game – it’s closer to an “unlimited trial”. Playing the game without paying for the Hawai pack is like flying the plane easter egg on Google Earth.

    • Mattressi says:

      I think that part of the problem is also that it’s a game that no one wanted. From what I can tell, people that are interested in non-violent sims are interested because of the realism of the simulation. People who want a more ‘arcade’y game generally want there to be some action. Basically Flight is a non-sim, with nothing much to do (especially without paying money), with a small selection of aircraft, very little area to fly and no community content (which is what I believe has kept FSX going so long). I just don’t understand who Microsoft’s target market was with Flight.

      • brkl says:

        I think this is a good analysis. Also, people don’t play flight sims to hop around a small area. I want to see the sights actually change.

      • sinister agent says:

        I don’t get who they were aiming for at all. I mean, if you’re into flight sims, once you’ve got the plane, you’re all set for hundreds of hours, surely? Certainly longer than most companies would want to wait for you to start paying for more, anyway.

        Still, credit to them for (sort of) giving it a go, I suppose.

      • Nater says:

        Pretty spot on. I would add that the DLC was horrifically over priced. $8 for a cockpit less WW2 plane is damn silly. $14 for a Maule in one configuration (no ski option, no water gear option, no tricycle gear option).

        I liked how you can just jump in really fast and go. I thought the mission/challenge system was a fun idea; however the lack of sim level realism coupled with extremely overpriced DLC (current pricing puts the entire US at $750+ for DLC) is a game not many people would want.

      • Xaromir says:

        Good point. I remember the last MS Flight Simulator i bough was actually that, and you actually could do real-time flights, and trying out all the different aircrafts was the bees knees and very rewarding as it actually took some time to learn how to fly and every single aircraft was different, it was great! Well, i guess times changed, people usually don’t want that kind of intense game play anymore, and i guess that’s why MS did what they did – to reach a broader audience, and sadly they failed, can’t have sweet and salty all at once.

      • WedgeJAntilles says:

        Yeah, I think you got it spot on. For serious flight sim enthusiasts, Flight was completely pointless. I’m actually working on my pilot’s license, and I mostly use FSX to practice when I’m on the ground. Flight is missing most of the realism that I use–I can’t control the weather, or simulate equipment failures, for example. Reducing the flyable area from THE ENTIRE FREAKING PLANET down to one dinky island is a pretty big kick in the pants, too. It also doesn’t support head-tracking, which makes it basically unplayable for me. I can’t imagine anyone who’s seriously into flight sims to care about Flight.

      • Henke says:

        I guess the Target Audience is people like me. People who didn’t think they’d enjoy flight sims but when a free one comes along they give it a try, enjoy it, and then buy all the DLC is the Steam Sale for 14 euros.

        Err, yeah I guess this particular audience wasn’t big or profitable enough to sustain further development.

    • djbriandamage says:

      I got over a dozen hours of enjoyment out of this “trial” without spending a penny. I’m more than satisfied. Maybe that’s the problem.

      I wanted to support this game but the addons were far too expensive. If the aircraft were $2 each and new zones were $5 I’d probably have spent $40 by now.

    • Baines says:

      Yes, the free version of Flight was pretty much just a demo, with the option to buy a full game in overpriced chunks.

      The DLC pricing was the kind of stunt Nintendo would pull, and bordered on “horse armor” levels. It also made the game pointless. If you were to ever really consider buying Flight’s DLC, then you might as well just consider buying the much better FSX.

    • macoud12 says:

      You are right about this, i would rather play Minecraft or TF2 instead of playing that piece of junk

  2. skittles says:

    Well I never got around to playing it, but I can’t really say its a failure of the f2p model. Well at least it certainly was in this case but their model was just plain crap. How did they expect to make any money when they inconsistently released small amounts of content and had the base game free. They needed to be more like Train Simulator and release a reasonable amount of content within a reasonable timeframe (i.e. opening it up to other developers to make paid content, I assume Flight didn’t do this… or were people just not interested?). I never had any interest in Flight because it never got around to releasing any content of interest to me, and I am sure a lot of people were in a similar position.

  3. 4026 says:

    That’s a shame. I picked this up with all the DLC at an eminently reasonable price in the Steam Sale, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it, despite (or, from the community’s forum rumblings, perhaps because of) not really having much experience with flight sims.

    Would never have considered it at full price, though. Those DLC packs are craaazy expensive.

  4. Super Bladesman says:

    Wow, I’m glad my position hasn’t been ‘eliminated’, and that as an individual I’m not so ‘affected’

    Cold.

    • Dare_Wreck says:

      That’s pretty standard HR-speak in America, and (it seems) presumably Canada, too. I agree it doesn’t exactly leave one with warm fuzzy feelings, but is there any way to phrase it that would? “Being made redundant” doesn’t seem any friendlier to me.

  5. Durkonkell says:

    Their pricing model was just silly. For the price of FSX which includes THE ENTIRE WORLD, you can buy a small chain of islands and a plane. And then they just released a stream of ‘non premium’ planes that didn’t have cockpits instead of working on things that people actually wanted. Astonishingly incompetent.

    I think the steam sale was their first experiment with selling the content at a significantly lower price, and they can’t even have waited to see the results of that before killing the project. Typical Microsoft.

    • konrad_ha says:

      I totally called it in March (in German unfortunately): https://plus.google.com/118122366854930330842/posts/EixEaHmaA9t

      The pricing model was so obviously unrealistic, and yet they stuck with it. Typical Microsoft indeed.

      • djbriandamage says:

        Yep, a casual game with enthusiast prices was perfect for no one.

        • Baines says:

          I wouldn’t call it enthusiast pricing. If anything, it was an attempt at casual pricing.

          It was similar to the idea that Polyphony Digital had for Gran Turismo, that the casual player wouldn’t want everything. After all, most people playing the game only had a few favorite cars that they stuck with, and didn’t care about many of the eccentric vehicles, variations, even entire brands. So the idea was to sell (or give away for free, I forget which) a very limited core game, and sell the majority of vehicles as individual DLC at marked up prices. The person that wanted only a few specific vehicles would save money.

          That was presumably the idea behind Microsoft Flight. Someone who wanted their home state and maybe another place, and maybe a specific plane or two, would be paying the price of a “regular” game. And they’d still save them money versus more hardcore flight sims.

          But just as people balked at the idea with Gran Turismo, anyone particularly interested in a flight sim would see the pricing scheme as a bit of a rip-off. The casual gamer that notices the issue doesn’t necessarily like the idea that they are only get a fraction of a game for their investment, which particularly stands out when other games (or previous games in the same series) gave you much more for your dollar. And the scheme would never favor the enthusiast who’d want everything, or near everything,

  6. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    RPG & other news sites are a bit slow to pick up on this a few weeks ago a senior employee posted on the steam forums he was leaving & alluded to this then the Steam summer sale where they sold it for 66% off was another sign MS were pulling the plug.

    I guess building an F2P with 2005 era GFX was always going to be a hard DLC sell!!!

    Another in a very long line of projects MS spent ages developing but less than a year supporting when it was obvious it was not something many would buy into.

    • WedgeJAntilles says:

      2005 era graphics? I think you need to get your eyes checked. For all of its failures, Flight is one of the best looking flight sims I’ve ever played. Too bad they didn’t get anything else right.

      • PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

        Hard to take your comment seriously have you even seen Flight Unlimited (circa mid 1990′s) ???

        • Tinytacohead says:

          Are you on crack??? While I won’t call MS Flight “one of the best looking flight sims I’ve ever played”, it’s easily leaps & bounds ahead of Flight Unlimited in the graphics department. And yes, I owned Flight Unlimited. Your comment is the one that’s hard to take seriously!! For the record, I’m not a fan of MS Flight at all either. I uninstalled it roughly an hour after it downloaded, lol.

  7. rocketman71 says:

    “It’s tempting to look at this as a failure of the free to play model”

    Nope, it’s just another Microsoft failure. Namely, not giving a fuck about what PC gamers want.

  8. Salt says:

    “There are so many questions about free to play that will only be easily answered once there have been a few successes and failures.”

    Hear hear. Far too many people (including developers and publishers) will just look at the success stories of free to play, and then declare it the future of everything. It has worked well for Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends, but you need to remember those are two of the most played games in existence (I have no facts to back that up but it sounds pretty plausible – and plausible is as good as evidence!) As well as having huge player bases they’re also notable for being focused on competitive multiplayer, which Flight certainly is not.

    I worry that free to play for primarily single-player games may only work for larger budget games if the game itself has addiction-riddled core mechanics. I certainly suspect that Flight would have had more success if the player built up a business by performing missions, and that you had to purchase content to keep growing it. “I’ve spent X hours making progress, surely it’s worth a £3 investment – my time is worth that much!”. They almost have that in the game currently with mission types only available if you buy a particular plane, but there’s no life-sapping central grind mechanic to make my feeble mind long to complete those missions.

  9. baby snot says:

    As most have pointed out, their failure to grasp how F2P can work was an issue. But I just have to point out how passionate flight sim enthusiasts can be (just like hobbyists in any regard I guess). You’d think a shiny new MS Flight done right would have been a licence to print money. Trust MS to screw a golden pooch.

    • gschmidl says:

      Well, maybe if it had been a flight simulator. Instead it was a gamified arcade flyer which was only about achievements, collectibles, unlockables, and selling you the overpriced DLC. Given that I can spend less than the total cost of the DLC for some of the best flight sims there are that include the entire world in high resolution, well.

      • 4026 says:

        Okay, so if I’m a flight-sim newbie that picked up Microsoft Flight and got a kick out of puttering about over Alaska in a Maule and flipping cockpit switches, where do I go from here? Backwards to FSX? or is there some other, more modern option? Is there anything that can ease me from MS Flight-level complexity to more ambitious stuff? or are all the “proper” flight sims designed with vertical learning curves?

        • gschmidl says:

          I’m pretty newbie-ish, but I found that X-Plane is pretty forgiving if you don’t turn on all the crazy options.

        • Mattressi says:

          X-Plane is good, but the graphics aren’t really great and I think there’s more community content for FSX. I went with FSX, but you can’t go wrong with either really. If you go with FSX, look into the Orbx scenery if you’d like some nice visuals (though, so far there’s only packs for Aus/NZ and NA…and they’re pricey). The stock aircraft in FSX are more realistic than Flight, but not in a way that makes it a horrible experience for newbies. You can set various difficulty settings down (simplified flight model, unlimited fuel, no damage from overstress, etc) and have fun and gradually work your way to more realism, if you like. There are some extremely detailed freeware and payware aircraft that you can get online too. You can get aircraft that are less realistic than stock FSX and more realistic than stock FSX, depending on what you want. There’s a really huge amount of community content, and while some of it is payware, there’s still heaps of quality freeware addons.

          I only really fly helicopters in FSX, rather than planes, so I can’t help much with specifics, but I have played around with the planes (stock and addons) quite a bit; enough to know what I said above.

          Also, GetGamesGo is currently having a simulation sale. They don’t have FSX, but quite a few other good ‘uns are there (Wings of Prey, IL-2 – both great WW2 flight simulators, for example).

          • kellpossible1 says:

            The big problem with fsx vs x-plane is that it doesn’t have a future. More and more 3rd party developers are moving to xplane, so that while currently there may not be such a wide range of quality content to pick from, there soon will be. Also what I enjoy about xplane is that it’s a more open platform. All updates to xplane 9 were free, and there were many with substantial improvements. 64 bit support is coming soon to xplane 10. This will allow much higher graphic fidelity than fsx ever can achieve.

        • WedgeJAntilles says:

          With Microsoft out of the picture, X-Plane is the biggest player in the market. While it has it’s problems, the developer is still actively working on it, so at least it will actually improve over time. There’s also Flightgear, which is free and open source, but I haven’t played that one so I can’t comment on it.

          • Mattressi says:

            @Wedge and kellpossible, I probably should have made that clearer. Currently, I much prefer FSX (it’s also cheaper, from what I’ve seen), but at some point it’s bound to be overtaken by X-Plane. For me, though, that won’t happen until more of the sim community moves to X-Plane. I know it has quite a large community already, but FSX just has such a huge number of community addons that I can’t leave it yet.

            I tried FlightGear as well, but it really lacks in the visual department. It might sound shallow, but visuals are important in a game with minimal ‘action’; at least to me.

  10. oceanclub says:

    I too picked it up in the Steam sale and was enjoying it. The basic plane is easy enough to land that it feels “arcadey” but certainly by other experiences with other planes suggests it really is a sim. It’s a shame there wasn’t more tutorials in the game, as part of the fun for sims for _me_ is the learning process. There was a few tutorials, but after a while you’re expected to learn simply by trial and error (hence many crash landing on my part into a dirt runway).

    I wonder was the Steam sale a last attempt to see if they could promote the game, or had they given up at the point already and were cutting their losses?

    P.

  11. Miltrivd says:

    I played when the closed beta went live. The flying was below mediocre, the island was small, even when using the small plane. DLCs weren’t optional, it was the only way to get any content, aggressive promotion of said content (even on beta, you could unlock the islands with certain events and they kept teasing you about the DLC) and then when the store was open the prices were incredibly high for a single plane.

  12. Alexandros says:

    Another half-hearted, half-assed, half-everything effort by Microsoft.

  13. Dominic White says:

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with F2P as a business model, but Microsoft Flight went about it entirely the wrong way. Huge prices on half-assed content. A full plane with cockpit should be $5 at most. A new scenery pack, maybe $10. An expansion with missions, scenery and maybe an official plane bundled in? $20, maximum.

    They were shooting for twice those prices and half the content. Nobody wants to pay top dollar for planes in a flight sim if you only get to fly them in third-person.

    Unless you’re aiming at a super-niche audience (see Railworks on Steam), you don’t get to charge that kind of money. If you go F2P, it’s specifically to cast your net as wide as possible and bring in the maximum range of customers.

  14. bill says:

    Given the amount of DLC for Railworks that I see listed on Steam, and the prices, it seems like there is definitely a market for this kind of thing. But, as usual with Microsoft, they went about it all wrong.

    A new version of MS Filght sim with a built in store for expansion packs and new planes, detailed areas, third party mods, etc… would surely net them a fortune… given the popularity of those kinds of expansions in that market.

  15. Joe Duck says:

    “some positions within the development teams have been eliminated”
    This being Microsoft, it was probably Master Chief who took care of that…
    “[Microsoft] will continue to produce the best entertainment and gaming experiences possible”… for their capabilities.
    I could not agree more and MS Flight is a clear example.

  16. UncleLou says:

    No third party support allowed (for a flight sim!), DLC planes with no cockpits (!), etc. This was as frustratingly half-baked as anything MS has done in the PC gaming area in the last few years.

  17. Rossi says:

    They shouldnt of ditched Microsoft Flight Simulator. At least the flight sim fans would have paid for that in droves. What were they expecting with this joke of a ‘gamesim’? Not hardcore enough for Flight sim fans, not game enough for casual players.

  18. asshibbitty says:

    Microsoft human resources, heh.

    I completely forgot about this after beta, and it looks like none of the DLC was covered in FP, so I missed the Alaska thing as well. Would’ve totally bought that, and what do I do now? I’m hoping for a sale but what if they pull it? argh.

  19. Njordsk says:

    I wish the best of luck for those losing their jobs. Microsoft failure again sadly.

  20. mrmalodor says:

    I am extremely happy that this happened. MS completely misjudged their target audience here. Instead of catering to simulation enthusiasts who want a robust platform that supports third-party content, they opted for a closed, simplified, casual flight game. As a result they alienated just about everyone who hoped for a sequel to FSX while also failing to capture the broader casual audience. Up yours, Microsoft.

    • djbriandamage says:

      I’m happy too. I need to be constantly entertained, so if I’m starting to get bored I take pleasure in seeing people fired. I’m a very important man, you see.

      • Khann says:

        Sorry, but we’re told to vote with our wallets. This has obviously happened in this case, so there is cause for celebration. Yeah it’s unfortunate that people lose their jobs because higher ups made terrible decisions, but they will find their way, and if they don’t, that’s just a sad reality of life at the moment.

        • psyk says:

          Vote with your wallet to DESTROY
          or
          Vote with your wallet to get CHANGE

          • Khann says:

            As consumers we can’t really choose which of those we are voting for. If not paying for stupidly overpriced and under-quality DLC causes a company to shut down rather than look for alternatives, that is hardly the fault of the consumer. That’s the fault of those in charge having no fucking clue what people want and seemingly no idea how to deliver it even if they did.

  21. corinoco says:

    It’s a bit sad though; this is pretty much the end of Flight Simming. Yes there is X Plane, but it really doesn’t grab me in the way FSX did. MS really missed a great opportunity with Flight – they had a great engine, they had a marketplace – they just needed to open up to 3PD and let the market set its own prices. Take a modest percentage, say 5%, sit back and watch money roll in.

    I still have FSX, but it is crippled by an engine that was 2 service packs away from being any good.

    I don’t know where MS is going these days – first Metro, now this. Is it just me or is MS turning into Sony?

  22. Stuart Walton says:

    I bought the pack when it was on offer in the Steam Summer sale and I’m glad I did. It’s certainly a much better experience than if you play with just the free content. Two slow planes and an single island, that despite being the largest of the Hawaiian archipelago has fewer sights per square mile. The locking out of many of the activity types due to not having a capable plane available also provides a narrow demonstration of the game.

    The main problem with MS Flight is that they went for F2P without studying what makes F2P successful. It is sorely lacking in a selection of aircraft. There’s nothing in the free content to tease you or lead you down the DLC path. The pricing, while cheap when considering the quality of the deluxe aircraft and comparing them to 3rd party content for the dedicated sims, is too high for the market they are aiming for.

    Without a wide selection on sale if you charge too little then you don’t make a profit, charge too much and you get the value out of each sale but you don’t sell too many. The idea is to offer lots, for cheaper and people will spend. They’ll pay what they can afford up to what they perceive the content is worth. Set the price too high and you never get the custom. You can’t charge cheap if you don’t have a selection.

    Flight has failed because they didn’t have the wide range of choice. I get the impression that they never got the resources (time as well as money) to build up a cache of content ready for deployment. When they didn’t get a huge return on those initial meagre offerings, the team failed to secure a bigger budget from MS. They ended up behind on their DLC schedule, this is apparent by the poorer quality and late Alaska DLC which shipped with a basic quality Carbon Cub. Not all the bugs and issues with the title got fixed with the last patch, so the development on the core game also suffered.

    Internally, the Alaska DLC was probably the make-or-break point for the project. But with the team stretched too thin there was no way it was going to keep any momentum if it couldn’t keep delivering content. Quite possibly, the desire and decision to make the deluxe versions of the aircraft pushed the project into an untenable position. If they provided just the basic models with a rudimentary but functional cockpit, charged a couple of quid each, they could have gotten the ball rolling and then later on offer the deluxe stuff. Alternately, they could have opened up to the modding community and set up a TF2-style Steam Workshop system where they could get extra content whilst maintaining editorial control (and profit share).

  23. Hoaxfish says:

    I guess the interest in this game just didn’t take off

  24. DarkFarmer says:

    Not simmy enough, weird plane selections, too few planes with cockpits, no jets, way too expensive. Nobody who buys a flight sim cares about catching rings.

  25. righteous_kill says:

    As a 25 Year user of the flight simulator series, someone who has been involved with the community from websites to podcasts, I played Microsoft flight for one afternoon on one day. That is all that it held
    my attention and felt more like an XBOX game.

    Having 80 hours in light planes, the flight model was arcade like and when combined with little content was not going to satisfy aviation enthusiasts or the mainstream flight simulator community.

    It is a shame that Microsoft coated a legendary PC series with the free to play trend and in the process
    dumbed it down to an almost unrecognizable form that satisfied neither market.

    The true shame is that the Graphic Engine is very nice and would have made a great base for a follow-up to Flight Simulator X. I truly wish they would take a few months and repackage the simulator as a stand-alone product at a set price allowing the community to take it from here.

  26. Tuor says:

    I guess this goes to show how difficult it is to create a flight sim that both appeals to hardcore sim fans and doesn’t teach terrorists how to fly planes into buildings.

    More seriously: I think this episode sort of encapsulates where Microsoft is going in the PC world.

  27. Zenicetus says:

    I think it was a failure of execution, more than a failure of the F2P model itself. I’m a hardcore X-Plane enthusiast so it was never going to be my kind of thing anyway, but I thought they had a shot at creating a separate playpen for more casual flying.

    It seems to me that MS just didn’t throw enough money and personnel at the project to prove the concept. If you’re going to go F2P, you need more than just a drip feed of overpriced, uninspiring content to generate actual revenue. I was surprised at how long it took them to get Alaska out, and the cockpit-less planes (and pricing) were a real head-scratcher. Even casual flyers expect a cockpit these days, even if they’ll spend little time in that view mode.

    Another company might make it work. I think the basic model is good, if there’s enough production behind it. At this point though, and with the failure of MS Flight, it would probably take another wealthy flight enthusiast like Austin Meyer (originator of X-Plane) to take a stab at it. General-interest game companies won’t want to touch this market now. It will “prove” that nobody is interested in casual civilian flying.

  28. Tams80 says:

    Microsoft stopped development on two of their most popular games: Microsoft Flight Simulator and Age of Empires. Both end up free to play. Both end up being mediocre.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Age of Empires Online was cut next. Something tells me it must be selling fairly well though, as it’s kept going and I see game cards in shops quite a bit (which considering PC games selection is limited, must mean something). It’s still overpriced, as Microsoft Flight was.

  29. SmittyBit says:

    I thought Flight was great, a friend gifted me some DLC, so I decided to try it, it was awesome. Now no more Flight.. bummer.

    At least a couple of packs were released. I do not buy Free to Play games – or their content rather, ever. I despise what DLC has become, but this was one DLC backed game I enjoyed (it was free after all, morals still intact) and I’m sad to see it go. Just felt good to play.

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